“I grew up to be just one of the boys,” says Merrilyn. “CFA was just something you did. I was really encouraged by all the guys in the brigade, especially the ex-captain, to go into the leadership role. Dad’s in the brigade but he’s not operational now. My brother is active and I’ve got a sister active in Woodford.”
Merrilyn views practical brigade skills as continuous with the hands-on skills learned during her farm apprenticeship all those years ago. Running a farm business also means keeping on top of paperwork. “Half an hour a day and it’s done,” she says, “and the CFA paperwork is lumped in with that.”
The new Ellerslie Fire Station opened last December and members plan to take advantage of the facilities with Friday night get-together. “We have community friendships and good close neighbours,” says Merrilyn, “and you all look after each other. I’m friends with all the members and keep them all talking together and friendly. The lieutenants call me ‘Boss Lady’!
“Women talk to men about different things to what men talk about together. Kids are a big topic of conversation. We talk about everything and that ease flows into brigade matters. We talk through ideas for the brigade. If you don’t know how to do something, you don’t have to have the bravado. It’s easier to admit you don’t know and we’ll work it out together.”
Ellerslie has 36 members with minimum skill, 15 of them active. They have recently signed up four new members: three 16 year olds and one aged 50. The brigade will soon join with Mortlake brigade to offer a Juniors program.
In fact, Merrilyn has already blazed that trail: she’s also a member of Mortlake brigade. She has breathing apparatus, driver and crew leader qualifications and, once again, on top of the CFA work, “I like the social aspect”.